Already a veteran of slick and successful albums by Ozzy Osbourne, Eddie Vedder, Elton John and Iggy Pop, despite his relatively tender years, Andrew Watt was nevertheless pinching himself. It was the day before one of The Rolling Stones’ Hyde Park shows of 2022 and here was the 31-year-old Long Islander “sitting in fucking Mick Jagger’s house, having tea.”
The pair chatted about Watt’s ongoing projects and the Stones’ stalled album. A week or so later Jagger was on the phone, explaining that, serendipitously, Ronnie Wood had talked with a recent Watt client, Paul McCartney, and that the young man was now in the frame to produce the Stones.
“This is Mick Jagger telling me a story about Paul McCartney talking to Ronnie Wood about me,” raps Watt a mile-a-minute. “Like, I can’t fathom how this is actually real…”
Invited to New York to sit in on sessions at Electric Lady, Watt was aware of the risks. He listened, kept quiet and wrote his thoughts in a journal, “because I didn’t want to be the new guy saying, Hey, why don't you try this out? They would have shown me the door, right?”
It must have been the right approach because Watt got the job (“the fucking greatest feeling ever”) helming November sessions in Henson Recording Studios in LA. But there was little initial talk about approaches or intentions. “It was more seat of the pants,” says Watt, “informed by the sounds coming out of the speakers, and the songs.”
It was Watt’s idea to draft founding bassist Bill Wyman on Live By The Sword – one of the two Hackney Diamonds songs that feature Charlie Watts – “so that there could be, for the fans, the original Rolling Stones rhythm section reconvened.” Elton John was another Watt suggestion, and it was Watt’s call to Stevie Wonder that led to the soul genius joining the band on the dramatic Sweet Sounds Of Heaven (“I cannot believe I got to witness that”).
But it was the work of Jagger and Richards that really blew him away. “How many Stones shows have you seen?” Watt asks MOJO. “Keith plays the same song different every night, right? Well, it’s the same with takes. He’s very primal and very emotional, but he’s also unbelievably melodic.”
Watt insisted that all Richards’ parts were finished before Jagger added vocals. “Because if you put Mick around Keith, it’s gonna sound like the Stones. You’re not fitting Keith in – fuck that.” It was part of an evolving plan to make a “modern” sounding record that preserved the unique live sound of the Stones, tracking in a room.
“I hope what makes it fresh and modern comes down to the way it’s mixed, with focus on low end and making sure the drums are big,” says Watt. “But the record is recorded like a Stones album. There’s no click tracks. There’s no gridding. There’s no computer editing. This shit is performed live and it speeds up and slows down. It’s made to the fucking heartbeat connection of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Steve Jordan. And Charlie, when Charlie’s on it.”
And what does he hope fans will hear?
“They’ll hear their favourite band in the world playing raw and un-fucked-with, because that’s what it is. It’s the raw shit.”
"I love the silly sod..." Get the new issue of MOJO to read the full interview with The Rolling Stones about the making of Hackney Diamonds, the death of Charlie Watts, their infamous 1967 drugs bust, the enduring relationship between Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and more! More info and to order a copy HERE!